Friday, October 25, 2013

Goodbye US, Israeli, Saudi Alliance: A New Order Beckons

Goodbye US, Israeli, Saudi Alliance: A New Order Beckons
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Saudi refusal of the rotating Security Council seat has been seen for what it partly is: a tantrum. But it is also a clue to a coming political reality: West Asian politics may well be reverting to normality.

The frenetic pace at which events moved in the Bush years after 9/11 when the United States could ride two horses, Israel and Saudi Arabia at the same time, on the gallop, is only possible on an extensive “straight”. This was the delusionary part of the neo-cons thinking. They thought the US would be on the “straight” forever, having defeated the Soviet Union. But now there is a bend in the race track.

As we know, other powers have arisen. The threesome, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US, must perforce pause and take stock. What have been the gains? Is the triangular alliance coming apart?

Marxists have a fine system of analysis. As long as Israel and Saudi Arabia serve Imperialism’s basic interests in the region, their influence in Washington cannot be discounted. But if this “basic” interest, that of being economically and strategically indispensible to Imperialism is not being served, special relationships or powerful lobbies in the US will not be able to keep these together. Riyadh and Tel Aviv must ponder. Are they useful or a drag on US’s “core interests”?

The trio was focused on one vision of West Asia. But the opening to Iran now being followed up by the British re opening their embassy in Teheran next week has rendered unfeasible that vision. Israel and Saudi Arabia had set their heart on “getting” Iran. That game stands suspended. Why should an enemy’s enemy now be a friend?

The alliance had gummed up a fundamental regional contradiction. How can, the Saudis in their original incarnation as leaders of the Arab world, be in an alliance with Israel which has occupied Palestinian Arab lands and will not budge.

One implication of the apparent Saudi estrangement with the US is that Riyadh will now pull out its peace plan of 2002 and resume its role as an Arab player. This brings into focus such of the Kingdom’s Foreign policy thinkers as Prince Turki Al Faisal, former Intelligence Chief and Ambassador to the US. Note the tone of the article he wrote in the New York Times over a year ago. “The special relationship between the two countries would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.” So, focus shifts to Palestine.

The Saudis dissipated their energies promoting Shia-Sunni strife on an unspeakable scale simply to keep an external focus, away from internal threats. The US too was dragged into this mess. But the Saudis could not keep their eye off tussles within. They began to see Muslim Brotherhood ogres in all the GCC countries and when Mohammad Morsi began to consolidate the Brotherhood in Egypt, they rushed and supported the Army coup, embarrassing Obama whose photographs were posted in Egypt as a supporter of Morsi. Indeed, photographs of the US ambassador Anne Patterson also came up as a Brotherhood “stooge”. That she was replaced is a sign of which side the US backed.

In any case Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s head was constantly popping up as the Egyptian army’s supporter. The Saudis came barging in with their billions and billions to keep the armed forces buoyant. Such a mess.

Then Prince Bandar bin Sultan flew into Moscow. His conversation with Vladimir Putin is a study in how diplomacy should not be conducted. Give us Syria, said Bandar, and take the world. It was like the Biblical yarn about the Devil tempting Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. “Get thee behind me, Satan”, said Christ, refusing the blandishments. When Bandar offered all the guarantees for a “terror free” Sochi Winter Olympic games next year, Putin said “we know you control terrorists”.

This amazing conversation was supposed to be under wraps but one of two sides leaked it to the Russian press.

Bandar’s other startling undertaking was that whatever he offered the Russians had American backing.

This was the trump card, Bandar handed Putin at the global Casino’s high table.

US, Saudis and Israelis together overpowering everything else in the region is no longer the name of the game. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, the Levant will have to seek their salvation together slowly, step by step with other countries of the region. Saudis may not have wanted to be on the UN high perch because in the new emerging regional system, they have to manage changes secretly which has been their classical style. The new style that Bandar tried to introduce may suit him but it cannot be the style of a cumbersome monarchy, weakened by age, where competing factions must be given voice, until the order changes. King Abdullah will be 90 in a few months.

The Saudi system, indeed, the Umma was convulsed by the siege of Mecca in 1979 led by Juhayman bin Sief al Uteybi, a few months after the Iranian revolution. The elders of the monarchy focused on the external Shia threat to manage the internal upheaval. And now, the external target is receding. Refocusing is required. Who knows, the US and the Saudi may pore over a compromise formula that had been worked out in Bahrain, much the most emotive issue in Najaf and Qom. Meanwhile, no one is throwing in the towel, not yet. Israel and Saudi Arabia will beat their breast and stamp their feet to test if Obama has really been able to shuffle out of the establishment strait jacket, custom made for George W. Bush and with which the President has been grappling like a trapped man in a Marcel Marceau skit.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Has Congress Always Been Averse To RSS?

Has Congress Always Been Averse To RSS?
                                                                  Saeed Naqvi
By triggering a debate on its Op-ed page last week, The Hindu, possibly unintentionally, lifted the scab from an old wound for many of us.

The debate, initiated by Vidya Subramaniam’s column on October 8, 2013, had its locus elsewhere: the RSS’ growing stranglehold on the BJP. Her point was that the RSS’s relationship with the BJP violates a commitment the RSS made to India’s first Home Minister, Sardar Patel, before it was unbanned on July 11, 1949. Remember, the RSS had been banned four days after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948.  But S. Gurumurthy of the RSS, in the course of establishing his rebuttal, wanders into the attitudes of senior Congress leaders towards the RSS. The Congress Working Committee, as is well known, was divided on this issue as it was on the country’s partition. Congress has historically fudged these issues.

Gurumurthy clinches the fact that the RSS violated no agreement, by quoting then Home Minister of Bombay, Morarji Desai, a Patel acolyte. In a written statement to the Bombay Legislative Assembly on September 14, 1949, Desai admitted that the ban on the RSS was lifted “unconditionally”.

When, returning from Muzaffarnagar after last month’s orchestrated, piecemeal ethnic cleansing, I heard exactly the anti Muslim slogans I had heard during the Gujarat riots in 1969, it did hurt. On that occasion Badshah Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, put down anchor in that city for nearly a month because he could not believe what he saw – 512 killed in what Justice Jaganmohan Reddy called “largely one sided riots”. Handbills calling for a “religious war” were distributed “to the rioters by the RSS and the Jana Sangh”. Congressmen joined the chorus that “Muslims were anti national”. Yes, in 1969.

I had a ringside seat with Badshah Khan that year. The Statesman had loaned my services to function as the Frontier Gandhi’s press adviser. This was at Jayaprakash Narayan’s behest. Since Indira Gandhi had split the Congress, Badshah Khan’s utterances were being carefully weighed by both sides. Was he favouring Indira Congress or the Syndicate Congress?

The issue of which way Badshah Khan would tilt was settled by the horrible communal situation in Ahmedabad. He was pained at Chief Minister Hitendra Desai’s alleged communal bias during the riots. And he saw the Chief Minister a political descendent of the Patel line. At this stage Badshah Khan had more or less accepted Ram Manohar Lohia’s list of the Guilty Men of India’s Partition. These “Guilty Men” were, in his book, not terribly averse to association with the RSS as Gurumurthy makes quite clear.

Gurumurthy quotes Patel’s speech in Lucknow in which he chastises his “powerful” colleagues in the Congress who wished to “crush” the “patriotic RSS”. The “powerful” Congressmen being referred to must be those led by Jawaharlal Nehru. Did this galaxy include Maulana Azad, President of the Congress from 1939 to 46? I doubt it. His prestige has since taken such a beating by sheer neglect that historian Ram Chandra Guha does not even mention him among Makers of Modern India. He considers Hamid Dalwai more worthy of mention.

The Maulana was “powerful” so long the real wielders of power in the Congress allowed him to. Nehru, for instance. But once they had made up their minds that they were full square behind the AICC resolution of June 14, 1947 endorsing India’s partition, Maulana Azad was an obstacle. There could have been no more weak and isolated leaders as Maulana Azad and Badshah Khan.

When Patel suggested to Golwalkar that the RSS should join the Congress, the RSS supremo was quick with his response. The two should work separately and “converge”. When, pray, would they “converge”? When Hindu Rashtra has been achieved?

The first Home Secretary of UP, Rajeshwar Dayal, has in his autobiography, A Life of Our Times, this story about Golwalkar and Congress stalwart, Govind Ballabh Pant, UP’s longest serving Chief Minister and Union Home Minister from 1955 to 61.

When communal tension in UP was high, Dayal carried incontrovertible evidence to Pant about Golwalkar’s plans to create a “communal holocaust in western UP”. Pant was convinced of the plot but he would not permit them to arrest the RSS chief. In fact Golwalkar was allowed to escape, having been duly tipped off.

“Came January 30, 1948 when Gandhi, the Supreme Apostle of Peace, fell to a bullet fired by an RSS fanatic.” Dayal concludes: “the tragic episode left me sick at heart”.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Libya Again: Who Makes America Do Such Silly Things?

Libya Again: Who Makes America Do Such Silly Things?
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi       
Recent events in Libya remind me of my first assignment in that country. But first let us recapitulate the latest American adventure.

The world’s greatest power enters a sovereign country, Libya and picks up Al Qaeda’s Abu Anas al-Liby, allegedly a fugitive from justice. Apparently he had been indicted in 2000 for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

As soon as Secretary of State John Kerry announces that the Libyan government knew of the dramatic kidnapping, a handful of local militias, who stand in as the new nation’s army, are so enraged that they capture the nation’s Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan. They are angry because Zeidan helped the Americans in capturing Liby.

The group which captures Zeidan explains their action to Al Jazeera TV: “in the light of the deterioration in security and damage to the country’s sovereignty by foreign intelligence bodies”, “we have arrested Zeidan.”
The operation appears to have been botched up in the sense that the more important target of American anger, Ahmad Abu Khattala, escaped. He is believed to have been involved in September 2012 attack in Benghazi which killed US ambassador Chris Stevens.

What really happened is something we shall know only after Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh publishes his book next year. Hersh told London’s Guardian newspaper that the 2011 US Navy Seals raid that resulted in the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden is “one big lie”. He added for emphasis: “Not one word of it is true”.

Yes, he said, “the Pakistanis did put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way: it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report.” Hersh’s book on National Security will have a chapter on the Abbotabad raid. Now one can expect reams of stuff on how the Americans delivered Libya into the new dawn of freedom.

It is now ofcourse fashionable for everyone to badmouth Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan strongman. But time was when he had his admirers even in South Block. That was when I first interviewed him.

In fact when President Ronald Reagan decided to bomb Tripoli and Benghazi in 1987, Non Aligned Foreign Ministers were in conference in New Delhi. As soon as news of the bombing came, the Foreign Ministers formed a delegation under the leadership of India’s Foreign Minister, Baliram Bhagat, a great cricket enthusiast among other things. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi thought it was a brilliant idea to show solidarity with a fellow non aligned leader.

As theatre, Qaddafi was never less than riveting. But what left a great impression on Bhagat, his secretary, N.P. Jain (even the Yugoslav Foreign Minister shook his head in admiration) was the extraordinary position women had in his regime. The Qaddafi melodrama began even as you were escorted to his presence: two stunning female bodyguards, one chiseled ebony, the other white marble, always flanking him. Outside, there was an equal mix of men and women, carrying firearms. The world’s first military academy for women was in Libya. Women drove cars, worked in offices, schools, colleges, hospitals. There were no mullahs in the country. The most educated person in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. Playing on popular superstition, Voodoo or other forms of African magic, was a criminal offence.

A cradle to grave welfare system covered everything – food, housing, cars, medical help, total expenditure for higher education abroad. He had the oil wealth and could afford to foot the bill. How did that bother anybody?

Little wonder Baliram Bhagat was impressed. But no sooner had he returned after his discovery of Libya, than Bhagat learnt a thing or two about power in world affairs. As Bhagat entered his office in South Block, he found Jain standing there, looking pale. So angry had Reagan been with Rajiv, already smarting under the Bofors scandal, that he relieved Bhagat from the foreign office.

That was many moons ago. Recently, why Americans blundered into Libya remains a mystery. So badly had American fingers been burnt in Afghanistan and Iraq, that Obama looked statesman like, shunning any foreign interventions. Then, despite themselves, Americans were pushed into leadership roles in Libya, Syria and now, once again, in Somalia and this badly planned kidnapping in Tripoli. Just when America was beginning to refurbish its image in the Middle East, comes this shocking misadventure.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Could Modi Be Grounded Before Take Off?

Could Modi Be Grounded Before Take Off?
                                                              Saeed Naqvi

Recently, the Indian Express published two news items on the same page.

On top of the page, across five columns, is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s appeal: “All Secular Forces Must Unite Against Modi” the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

Bottom of the same page has a two column headline in which Arun Jaitley is urging the Prime Minister to “Probe Motivated Investigation” against Narendra Modi and his political soulmate, Amit Shah. The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha has accused the Congress of misusing Investigating Agencies like the CBI and NIA against BJP leaders “including it Prime Ministerial candidate”. So, it seems the probes on Modi are closing in.

Juxtapose the two news items, one against the other, and a kind of pattern emerges of Modi’s menacing, vertical rise and the UPA’s horizontal mopping up operations of the scared “secular” formations. Without one, the other has no game to play.

In a column written in mid July, I had explained my understanding of the game. What was the hurry in projecting Modi as the BJP’s Hindu mascot for the political season upto the 2014 parliament election? Atleast those eager to promote him could have waited for the Assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, in atleast three of which the BJP has major stakes.

Would it not be the Hindutva’s vote of no confidence in the BJP Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, when they are preparing for the November assembly elections, to have the Chief Minister of Gujarat sail above their heads? Agreed, Shivraj Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje Scindia do not owe their lives to the RSS as Modi does, but even so what would have been lost if the RSS-BJP had waited until the November elections? What was the urgency? Were the cases closing in on Modi and the Gujarat model? That being the case Modi had to be boosted sky high, like a rocket, so that he can be cast as a martyr just in case the investigating agencies ground him. The very first sentence of Jaitley’s letter to the PM is: “The Congress cannot fight Narendra Modi politically. Defeat stares them in the face”. Hence, the “misuse of intelligence agencies” to ground Modi. Was this the mantra whispered in the ears of the BJP stalwarts who had thrown a fit at his elevation?

It was quite startling how the senior leaders, in a state of collective convulsion at Modi’s elevation in Goa in June, had very rapidly composed themselves and begun to see light over the horizon. Modi was anointed PM candidate in September and they tamely watched. Suddenly they had changed. Why?

Brecht’s spoof on Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, does come to mind but the Indian media have decided that Modi is not resistible. There he floats above the firmament, irresistible in his designer kurtas, beard in perfect trim, once or twice I could have sworn he wore lipstick, positioning himself before a lotus here, a parapet there in admirable imitation of Sohrab Modi of the Parsee theatre fame.

During practice sessions boxers do no really hit hard. They spar, jab gently, float around for footwork but never land a punch on the chin. This is what is going on between the vertical Modi and the horizontal UPA.

In July I had written:
“Since 2007, just before the state assembly elections, Modi’s public relations has been globally managed by APCO Worldwide which boasts of former US ambassador to New Delhi, Timothy Roemer, as a hands on manager with offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. APCO has an impressive record of servicing dictators like Sani Abacha of Nigeria.”

If the UPA were in serious combat with Modi, there would have been atleast a whisper about APCO among the UPA publicists. But there has been nothing of the sort. The sides are not fighting; they are jousting. The real knockout punch was administered by Rahul Gandhi not on the opponents but on his own party when he rubbished the Ordinance on convicted law makers.

Chastise me for my perverse thought, but the real effect of Modi as a Hindu mascot, coming with things like Muzaffarnagar in his train, is two fold: it enables the BJP-RSS to measure its appeal nationwide for some future round. This aggressive Hindutva is designed to drive anything which is not hard core Hindutva towards the creation of a possible UPA III because Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are still trusted by India Inc in Mumbai and their Multinational links who have identified India as a trillion dollar market and essential for global recovery.

“Another reason why Modi’s support team have been able to impose a fait accompli on the BJP”, I wrote, “is because of an acute fear that Modi and his Sancho Panza will, sooner or later, trip up in the course of investigations under way in Gujarat. Modi’s fall will then be the BJP’s fall too; it will be the fatal collapse of the Gujarat model. But if Modi is allowed to fly high on a platform of Hindu nationalism, his being grounded will be blamed on intrigue by the forces of “pseudo secularism”. This pits Modi as an embodiment of an idea shaded in dark saffron, projected in Presidential style, against the secular formations, pale and wan, poised precariously on a rickety Parliamentary platform.”

The real battle, then, is not being envisaged for 2014 but more like 2016 – mid term.

Jaitley’s 15 page letter, giving details of all the cases that are zeroing in on Modi and Shah is the beginning of an almighty cat and mouse between the BJP and the UPA. Is there a real fear that Modi will be grounded before take off?

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